Dalvin Tomlinson Looking to More Add Pass Rush to Toolkit

Oct 3, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) runs the ball against Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports.

Dalvin Tomlinson had a fairly good season for his first year in Minnesota in 2021.

Despite playing in a defense that generally wasn’t good enough, Tomlinson was one of the few players that could be relied on. His overall rating of 74.9 by Pro Football Focus was the highest on the Vikings defense. He has been around that score for every season he has played in the NFL. Showing a great level of consistency, he built his reputation as a run-stuffer playing at nose tackle. Tomlinson wants to add pass rush to his game in Ed Donatell’s new defensive system.

It is something he has already been improving. Last year his pass rush grade from PFF of 72.8 was actually higher than his run defense grade of 68.1. An even greater improvement would be very beneficial for the Vikings defense. Interior pass rush — or lack of it — is one of the central question marks the team currently has. New signee Harrison Phillips, Armon Watts, Jaylen Twyman, and rookie Esezi Otomewo are the likely candidates responsible, along with Tomlinson, for providing that pass rush. There is no established pass rusher on that list, so somebody needs to step up.

PFF has ranked their top 25 interior defenders heading into the 2022 season. Tomlinson comes in at number 18 in the tier labeled “above-average starters. Here is what they had to say about the Vikings defensive tackle:

18. DALVIN TOMLINSONMINNESOTA VIKINGS

“Tomlinson began his career with the Giants as a run-stuffing specialist, but he’s started to make more of an impact as a pass-rusher over the past two seasons. He ranks in the 66th percentile of all qualifiers at the position in PFF pass-rushing grade since 2020 compared to the 14th percentile across the first three years of his career. Minnesota will be counting on him to continue to provide interior pressure while also solidifying their run defense alongside free-agent acquisition Harrison Phillips as they transition to a new scheme under Ed Donatell.” 

– Pro Football Focus

With Michael Pierce going back to Baltimore, Tomlinson is now the clear veteran leader in this position group. It could also mean returning to the nose tackle position in Donatell’s new defensive scheme, more like the scheme Tomlinson was used to with the Giants. He is a big guy who can dominate in the middle of the line at nose tackle, but he can be more. His tally of 9.5 sacks and 26 QB hits over the last three seasons is certainly respectable. 

Dalvin Tomlinson
Oct 10, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Giants defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

If he can become even more effective in the passing game, he might rank even higher on PFF’s list next season. The NFL is now a passing league. That’s a phrase you will hear all the time because it is true. Teams want an explosive passing attack, so defenses have to be built accordingly. Just being a run-stuffer on the defensive line isn’t enough anymore. Players have to be able to at least affect the quarterback in the passing game as well.

Tomlinson can do that but wanting to get even better only makes sense.

He is 28 years old and will be a free agent next season. Tomlinson needs an impressive season to possibly cash in on a final bumper contract, whether in Minnesota or somewhere else. So there’s plenty of incentive for Tomlinson to up his game. The positive environment around the Vikings from the new leadership has everyone feeling upbeat, and the players are looking confident.

Year 2 in Minnesota for Tomlinson will be a much bigger one. I’m looking for him to dominate the middle of that line and if he can’t get to the quarterback or ball carrier himself, flush them out to the athletic defenders the Vikings are will have coming from the edge. 

The nose tackle position will be vital for Donatell’s defense, and Tomlinson is just the man to take the role.